With Luck, the Dodgers Won’t Crash
The Dodgers have a new face, and it is dabbed in Clearasil.
The Dodgers have a new voice, and it speaks in megabytes.
Meet General Manager.Com, otherwise known as Paul DePodesta, a 31-year-old computer nerd who was hired Monday to rid the Dodgers of their, um, virus.
“I’ll admit, there’s some boldness to this,” said owner Frank McCourt. “But that’s exactly what we need to do to change things around here.”
Change it they have, from Branch Rickey to Little Rickey, from Buzzie Bavasi to Bill Gates, from wise old men who trusted effort to a kid who relies on ... equations?
For the last four seasons, DePodesta has essentially been the webmaster for that funky site known as the Oakland Athletics.
Billy Beane was the general manager, DePodesta was the statistics cruncher, and together they built a team that overachieved during the season but crumbled in the playoffs, spreadsheets being unable to judge heart.
That DePodesta would be ready for a challenge such as the Dodgers is the wacky stuff of chat rooms and message boards, which, not coincidentally, is where McCourt received his final approval.
He said Gavin, his 13-year-old son, was browsing through a sports board when he saw eight pages of discussions about DePodesta that included one poster’s comparing his potential hire to that of the New York Yankees’ acquisition of Alex Rodriguez.
“I found this to be a clear choice, if not an easy one,” McCourt said.
Given the abundance of certain names on the Internet these days, I guess the Dodgers should be fortunate their new general manager isn’t Paris Hilton.
Seriously, McCourt seems sincere about changing the Dodger culture, and DePodesta, a Harvard graduate who seems sufficiently earnest and humble, might fit that mode.
I’ve eaten Dodger Dogs that were older than this kid.
He watched the last Dodger playoff victories from boarding school.
And, like McCourt, he had never been to Dodger Stadium.
At this rate, the Dodgers need not a hitting coach, but a tour guide.
And their dear fans, patient for so long, may have to dig a little deeper.
“This place has tried quick fixes, they don’t work,” McCourt said. “This is about stability and continuity.”
No offense, but it’s hard to use those two words about two guys who haven’t even moved here yet.
And nothing against DePodesta, but it’s hard to watch what was once baseball’s most prestigious operation become an entry-level position.
I’m so old, I remember when all the Dodger rookies used to be in the dugout.
DePodesta is a nice kid and all, but isn’t it a bit disconcerting when the new baseball boss of the Dodgers meets Tom Lasorda for the first time on the morning he is hired?
It would seem you could count the number of baseball people who have never met Lasorda on one glove, and you would wonder where they were hiding.
“I really liked him for two reasons,” Lasorda said. “He’s Italian, and he grew up in Philadelphia.”
DePodesta should put Lasorda on speed dial in the hopes that the Hall of Famer also will one day like him for something else -- a willingness to listen.
“I’m very aware of my limitations, I know I never played in the big leagues,” DePodesta said. “I hope to surround myself with people who have assets I don’t have.”
Fans will like hearing that. But those fans will howl if it turns out the Dodgers, by offering more money, could have had two-time world championship boss Pat Gillick or even Billy Beane.
The fans should also like DePodesta if he is able to use all of that $100-million payroll that McCourt claims is available.
But they will screech if the kid is instead hired to be baseball’s Doogie Howser, surgically removing payroll until the Dodgers become a middle-market team with middle-market aspirations.
“It is a proven fact that payroll amount does not correlate to success on the field,” said McCourt, for the umpteenth time.
But, for the umpteenth time, it does correlate if you have a thin top layer of minor leaguers, as the Dodgers do.
Here’s hoping DePodesta recognizes this, and is able to decipher the only equation upon which he will be initially judged.
Current lineup minus new bat equals bow wow.
When asked Monday whether he thought the Dodgers indeed needed a power hitter, DePodesta gave one of those replies that makes you want to pull out your chaw and scream.
“We have a definite need to score more runs than the other guys,” he said.
We’ll no doubt see this answer pop up again in the Saturday letters section accompanied by far more wittier commentary than mine but, suffice to say, Dodger fans deserve something a tad more meaty. And quick.
This weekend featured three-hour autograph waits at the Angels fan fest. On Monday, the Dodger news conference featured five empty seats in the front row.
Getting the message, are we?
The theme with DePodesta is about a brave new Dodger world, or at least a brand-new floppy disk.
As one of the featured characters in the best-selling, behind-the-scenes book “Moneyball,” DePodesta was once described by author Michael Lewis as such:
“Before the 2002 season, Paul DePodesta had reduced the coming sixth months to a math problem.”
The book told how DePodesta judged players by certain statistics, especially on-base percentage, then put those stats into a computer that spit out the names of guys he wanted.
Without a Panama hat or stopwatch in sight.
The method, which cost scouts jobs and lowered the A’s payroll, resulted in a .606 winning percentage during that time, tied for the best in baseball.
But lacking Kirk Gibson-type leadership -- Gibson’s unconventional numbers probably wouldn’t have fit the A’s system -- they went 0-7 in potential playoff-clinching games.
In the end, DePodesta’s style didn’t win any more playoff series than Kevin Malone’s style or Dan Evans’ style.
“The human element is not measurable,” admitted DePodesta, but spam is, and let’s hope he’s not full of it.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.